However long it seemed to get Elijah Riley off the turf and onto a stretcher, his ride from the stadium to the hospital seemed even longer.
For about five full minutes of the Jets’ Week 15 game in Miami, the safety lay motionless around the Dolphins’ 40-yard line while surrounded by trainers.
He had collided with teammate Kyle Phillips while pursuing a tackle in the third quarter, and he remained there as teammates and opposing players took knees.
“Big hit, was in a significant amount of pain,” Riley said Friday, his first time publicly reliving the moment.
Eventually he was moved to a stretcher, and a trainer appeared to be holding his neck in place. He made a fist and lifted an arm, allowing the crowd and teams to let out a collective exhale.
“The ride from the stadium to the hospital felt way longer than almost anything I’ve ever done,” said Riley, who suffered a concussion but otherwise was OK.
Riley said he did not lose consciousness and did not fear the worst, but hearing the medical professionals’ conversations did not help.
“When I heard them talking about the flatboard and the stretcher, I was like, ‘Uh, what’s going on?’” Riley said over Zoom after practice in Florham Park.
The scans came back negative, and he was able to fly back with the team. Somehow, two weeks after it looked as if even moving his legs might be jeopardized, the 23-year-old should start for the Jets at MetLife Stadium against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
The safety-needy Jets do not have many alternatives after turning to Will Parks — whom they had signed days earlier — and rookie Jason Pinnock — who had been a cornerback — last week, their eighth and ninth starting safeties of the season. The unit has been ravaged by injury and illness, the latest including Ashtyn Davis, who has been activated off the COVID-19 reserve list but is “dealing with other stuff” according to coach Robert Saleh, suggesting an injury.
If Davis does not start at safety, Saleh suggested Pinnock, who’s had “an outstanding week” and recently signed Kai Nacua could get looks alongside Riley.
Riley, who went to Army and is from Port Jefferson, seems to wish he could have returned even sooner.
“The most frustrating part of it is it’s my brain,” said Riley, who has been a full participant in practice each day this week. “I can’t necessarily work out my brain — I can’t really get treatment on my brain to help speed up the recovery process. I just kind of hang out and let it run its course.”